The  Quest for Educational Equity in Massachusetts

The Quest for Educational Equity in Massachusetts

by Eileen Wedegartner

How far have we come? How far do we still have to go?

The United States of America is anchored in the belief that every citizen stands equal before the law. This foundation, that America is a land where aspirations can become a reality for anyone, has become embedded in the nation’s identity. Central to this belief is the role of education, hailed as the gateway to the American Dream. Yet how authentic is this promise if disparities in access to quality education remain?

Across America, disparities persist at the national, state and district levels. The essence of education is not just to promote financial prosperity but to prepare citizens for meaningful civic participation. As highlighted by John Adams in the Massachusetts Constitution, an educated populace is paramount for a thriving democracy:

"Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties… it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences…."

(Massachusetts General Laws,1780)

This sentiment was reinforced in 1993 when the Massachusetts  Supreme Court, in McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education, emphasized that education is an enforceable right for all children in Massachusetts, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds.

The disparities were evident when I began my college journey in 1993. Meeting peers who had never seen a book in the classroom or written an essay starkly contrasted with my own experience. Awareness of inequities has shaped my career as an educator during the post-1993 period when reforms like the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks were intended to level the playing field.

While standards-based measurements like MCAS exams have improved student performance, disparities persist despite initial progress. By 2022, growth in student performance, especially post-pandemic, was sluggish.

Enter the concept of equitable literacy, an initiative born in the early 2020s intended to ensure that all learners have equal access to literacy resources tailored to their unique needs. This method acknowledges systemic barriers faced by specific demographics. Key strategies promoting equitable literacy include:

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Incorporating diverse cultural perspectives into the curriculum and teaching methods. This involves recognizing and valuing each student’s cultural capital in the classroom and using it as a foundation for learning.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL): A framework that involves designing  curriculum and instructional methods to be accessible to all students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

Multilingual Support: Providing instruction and support in multiple languages to ensure that language minorities can participate fully in learning.

Socio-Economic Support: Providing additional support and resources to students from socio-economically marginalized backgrounds to address the barriers they may face in developing literacy skills.

Supplemental  programs like JFYNet (from JFYNetWorks) provide tools to create an equitable literacy environment. These programs, rich in differentiated resources, cater to diverse learner profiles to  ensure that all students can  engage fully with the curriculum.

The JFYNet reading program meets students at their current reading ability level by using an assessment specifically designed to measure Lexile levels. With that baseline, students receive reading assignments pitched at their measured individual Lexile level. This means that while reading skills across a classroom may run the gamut, each student will have access to the same material, presented at adjusted, individualized reading levels. This is a practicable way to differentiate instruction. In addition, students can access language supports like speech-to-text and a screen reader.  These functions can be turned on for the whole class or for individuals to differentiate student experiences with a high degree of specificity. Other supports include text masking, highlighting, and annotation tools, along with a host of graphic organizers. It also has functionality to help students who struggle with foundational reading skills like phonemic awareness. All these supports help teachers achieve real differentiation in the classroom.

In addition to differentiated reading experiences, the program also offers language support.  A translation tool for over 60 languages is included in the program, as well as a Spanish support option.  Coupled with rich graphics, the program provides multiple ways for a teacher to build language skills in a diverse student population.

An effective equity-based reading program is not just about diverse materials; it’s about relevant and supportive content. Our reading program offers over 10,000 reading lessons, helping students delve into historical texts, science terminology, culture and global perspectives. As the What Works Clearinghouse notes, “The intervention is designed for diverse student groups, including general education students, struggling readers in need of intensive tutoring, and English learners” (Institute of Education Sciences, 2018).

In the world of education, teachers serve as the pivot, and research-backed resources enrich the learning landscape. The combined powers of educators, sound curriculum and supportive tools create the environment for literacy to flourish.

As John Adams declared, a literate population is the cornerstone of our democracy and the bedrock on which the promises of our Constitution rest. Here’s to another year of striving for, and achieving, educational equity in Massachusetts.


Eileen Wedegartner is a JFYNetWorks blended learning specialist.  

Other posts authored by Eileen can be found here.

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